Lola Higueras, first female Navy diver: “In Spain we prefer to follow anyone who misses us or who invents the black legend than to know the real story”

Lola Higueras, first female Navy diver: “In Spain we prefer to follow anyone who misses us or who invents the black legend than to know the real story”
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Lola Higueras, first female Navy diver: “In Spain we prefer to follow anyone who misses us or who invents the black legend than to know the real story”

The former technical director of the Naval Museum of Madrid and first female diver of the Spanish Navy, María Dolores Higueras Rodríguez (Madrid, 1945), will offer this Thursday in the assembly hall of the old School of Commerce, at 7:00 p.m., the talk “Jorge Juan and the illustrated navy. The event is organized by the Alvargonzález Foundation and the Ateneo Jovellanos on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the death of Jorge Juan Santacilia.

-How important was the figure of Jorge Juan Santacilia?

-He is one of the great figures of the scientific navy of the second half of the 18th century. He has an extraordinary and very versatile personality, because he covers many fields. He is important for the scientific expeditions of the century, he is one of the great promoters of the renewal of shipbuilding, of nautical teachings and he is truly one of the great figures of enlightened Spain to which I have dedicated myself since I started working in the Naval Museum and for forty years. He was also a great promoter of all the reforms that were made at that time by decision of the Bourbons and that really brought Spain back to the peak of naval power. He was the one who made possible the more than 60 expeditions carried out by the Spanish crown to America. He is a character that I have worked on thoroughly, that I know well, and I want to highlight him.

-How do you value this type of events being organized?

-I find it very interesting because the history of Spain is poorly known by the Spaniards themselves. We were very big at sea. I think we have been the most important country from the point of view of navigation. We were a true power in both the 16th and 18th centuries and I think it is important that this be disseminated in conferences. Throughout my life I have dedicated a large part to the dissemination of Spanish heritage and historiography because it is poorly known. Whenever they ask me, I am delighted because the more people who know what we were like, the better.

-Why do you think this happens?

-It happens because unfortunately Spain, which is a great country and we are great people, we live with our backs to the sea, which is really the environment that made us great in the world, and with our backs to our history. We prefer to follow anyone who ignores us or who invents the black legend, and not really know the real story out loud and from the archives themselves, as I have done.

-Since when did the Navy of the 18th century draw your special attention?

-I have dedicated a very important part of my life to the illustrated navy. So, when I entered the Naval Museum, the first thing I did was catalog the documentation of the Malaspina-Bustamante expedition, which was the last maritime scientific expedition of the century, and which was very little known. I made an important catalog in three volumes that was made known to scholars and later in conferences and publications. Summaries in English were always published in these works so that international Anglo-Saxon experts could have access and this had an immediate reflection in the fact that Spain began to appear in the great syntheses of maritime history. It didn’t appear before because we simply didn’t publish enough.

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-Beyond participating in these talks, in what other activities are you still present at 79 years old?

-In many. I am very active. Not long ago I participated in the presentation of a great Spanish international regatta. I participate in documentaries, I have written two important books about traveling around the world and I have just delivered a book about the Spanish presence in America in the 16th century, which is very unknown and was very important. Being retired has that great advantage, that you can choose what really interests you.

-How do you define your own career?

-My life has really been a life in front of the sea, on the sea and under the sea. About the sea because it has been a life dedicated to Spanish maritime history. Under the sea because diving and underwater archaeological activity and the defense of our submerged heritage have been very important in my professional life, which is very important because Spain has truly sailed all the seas and we have beautiful sinkings in all the seas on earth. Due to life circumstances, I was the first diver the Navy had because the Naval Museum belonged to the Navy and there were no women in the Navy diving center. It was a very curious circumstance that my life took on. I entered the Naval Museum at a very young age. Julio Guillén wanted to set up an area of ​​underwater archeology and he trained me as a professional diver to be able to direct the Institute of Underwater Naval-Historical Studies of the Naval Museum from a very early stage. I am also very grateful for all the recognitions I have received. It is a wonder.

-What did it mean for you to be the first female diver?

-Immersion in the underwater world has been one of the great joys of my life. It is an extraordinary environment where one feels the physical and the spiritual very intertwined. It is a wonderful sensation, the weightlessness, the murmuring silence of the bottom, the richness of the fauna and that explosion of color that emerges in the depths.

-Are you still entering the waters?

-I haven’t dived for a while because there is a need for infrastructure that I don’t have at the moment. It is something that cannot be done alone. I miss it, but I experience the sea as much as I can and I get closer to the sea as much as I can. I am from Madrid and I live in Madrid, but right now I am in Gijón and I come whenever I can get away, since I am also a member of the board of the Alvargonzález Foundation.

-What do you think of the work they do?

-They do extraordinary work in the field of culture from all points of view: publishing books, lending their room to young people who want to exhibit, and their publications.

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